Procol Harum

Beyond
the Pale

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Procol Harum The Secrets of the Hive

2007 compilation reviewed online by Dmitry M Epstein


The perfect entry point with no way out: the further investigation and investment are inescapable.

Two and a half hours might be too much for any "best of" type of compilation, especially when there's only twelve albums to choose from, but there's basically all there is to know about this band, music-wise and with extensive liner notes. Known mostly for the opening single, one of the 20th century greatest moments, 1967's A Whiter Shade of Pale, Procol Haurmm have been consistent throughout their four-decades career that this collection starts a celebration of. With each of the two discs built chronologically, what most striking is how fully-formed the ensemble emerged on the scene in the late 60s to capture the Zeitgeist yet not become a period-piece makers. Such life-affirming, classical music-infused anthem as 1968's Quite Rightly So could have been produced at any time, and the only era-bound tracks here are A Dream In Ev'ry Home and the rest from 1991, so it was a saving grace for the group to have skipped the '80s when 'plastic' production values wouldn't cohere with Procol's patented pattern of piano and organ.

Not that Gary Brooker's voice and ivory-tinkling and Keith Reid's image-rich and reverie-provoking lyrics smoothed their road from the very start to the present day as early as 1970, guitarist Robin Trower made his progressive blues inclinations clear on Whisky Train, embellished with BJ Wilson's percussive wonders but it's the pair's songwriting that's been the band's forte all these years. And their performing skills, too, for Procol were the first to try what is a current trend of playing on-stage with classical musicians in 1971, they had Edmonton Symphony Orchestra to greatly expand the scope of epic stories like Conquistador and A Salty Dog, both here. Also notable is another live recording from Edmonton, the previously-unreleased, large-scaled Into the Flood by the short-lived 1992 line-up, but they didn't need extra players on 1973's Fires (Which Burnt Brightly) to conjure up the grand rococo atmosphere and go burlesque the following year with the infectious Beyond the Pale.

The picture that Secrets of the Hive opens up is beautiful yet, with organist Matthew Fisher's Repent Walpurgis and Weisselklenzenacht (The Signature) the grand finales of both each disc and the band's first and the last albums to date the latter linking the end to the very beginning, to that fantastic single, the painting is unfinished, for though their creative well's on fire, indeed, and the hive's buzzing still, the curtain's not dropped on Procol Harum.

*****
 


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